The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will induct its greatest collective group ever when Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan take their place among the greatest luminaries in basketball history later this year.
Bryant, Duncan and Garnett combined for 11 championships, 48 All-Star appearances, 39 All-NBA selections, 39 All-Defensive selections, 5 Finals MVPs and 4 regular-season MVPs as faces of the NBA for two decades.
Nonetheless, greatness is measured by more than rings or awards. This trio of first-ballot Hall of Famers goes beyond individual contributions or even championships. You don’t need insider access to understand that the Class of 2020 is the best.
The 2020 Hall of Fame class is the greatest due to their basketball success paired with connected off-court legacies that transcend their sport and era. It’s rare to see three greats like Bryant, Garnett and Duncan retire at the same time and get inducted in the same ceremony.
The 2020 Hall of Fame class is the second-best class based on data, only behind 2009.
ESPN ranks the 2020 group second based on championships added. This metric essentially weighs each player’s individual contributions and accomplishments to winning a banner, since a championship remains constant through The Association’s expansion.
Bleacher Report ranks 2020 under the 2009 class based on MVP shares, Box Plus/Minus, Win Shares, and combined average of points, rebounds and assists.
That class includes Michael Jordan, John Stockton and David Robinson, who combined for eight championships and six MVPs. Stockton also retired as the career steals and assists leader.
I get the logic behind using Win Shares and championships to compare classes. However, sports don’t happen in a vacuum.
Why the 2020 Hall of Fame class is the GOAT
Looking strictly at data ignores all the off-court contributions the 2020 Hall of Fame class made. You can’t ignore the context around the 2020 class. The NBA would not have this amount of clout or influence without the characters of Kobe, KG or Timmy. Period.
We live in an era where the NBA dominates headlines year-round thanks to Twitter beefs, trade rumors and free agency madness. Look at what has been happening since real game action paused, with players taking to IG live for interviews, Twitch for streaming game play, esports tournaments, TikTok challenges and more outside of the game.
Obviously, none of this means more than championships. It does matter when you consider its impact on the game of basketball, which is how you split hairs when comparing Hall of Fame greats.
These three greats were instrumental in the NBA growing exponentially over their careers. They grew the game here and internationally as they laid the groundwork for the NBA we know now. Ignoring all that seems like false equivalency and very 1990s.
Comparing the 2020 and 2009 classes
That’s not to overlook the contributions on or off the court of other classes, especially the 2009 Hall of Fame class.
Stockton and Robinson were great, but much of the reason the data skews in favor of the 2009 class is Jordan’s presence. Jordan’s 4.2 championships added, most in league history at the time, are 1.5 more than any player this year.
Jordan transcended basketball. John Stockton inspired a lot of the basketball we see today. David Robinson is still one of the best defensive players and stories we’ve seen in the NBA.
Moreover, Jordan inspired Kobe. MJ is also the only owner of color, which speaks to his impact beyond his playing career.
Robinson mentored Duncan. The 2020 class came into the league while the 2009 class was tailing off, so they earned that era’s respect, too.
More global impact
However, the 2020 Hall of Fame class took the global impact a bit further. Kobe was an international being. The multi-linguist found love in Italy, China and everywhere. His untimely death this year shocked and inspird the world simultaneously.
Duncan’s run did not end when Robinson retired as he won three more titles. The Big Fundamental is also from the Virgin Islands and started playing basketball in high school.
Garnett and Bryant were the two best to ever do it out of high school and paved the way for LeBron James, Dwight Howard and others. They’ll be used as examples for why the NBA’s age rule never should have existed.
KG forcing his way out of Minnesota for a trade in Boston created paths for other players creating their own destiny and superteams. LeBron, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and others have since advanced the player empowerment playbook.
Meanwhile, players like Duncan or Bryant who spent decades with one team are a dying breed.
In many ways, the 2020 Hall of Fame class bridged the NBA from the Jordan era into the social media era. They created the Western Conference dominance we’ve seen in the NBA for decades. These three were each so different yet intertwined.
KG and Duncan used to battle in the first round of the playoffs, but now they lead the best power forward ever conversation. Duncan and Bryant had legendary playoff bouts. Bryant’s Lakers superteam beat Garnett’s Timberwolves the year he won MVP. Bryant and Garnett also almost linked up with the Lakers before KG went to Boston.
Don’t forget the shoe wars. Garnett and Duncan were team Adidas, while Kobe went from Adidas to an epic free agency that made him one of Nike’s premier athletes.
We saw them all as foes even if they were quietly friends as Olympic gold medalists and members of an elite NBA fraternity. That’s what also separates them from future classes, as modern NBA rivals appear more friendly than ever in public. They were never afraid to clash on both ends of the court, and that’s what makes their class the greatest chapter in the history of the NBA.
Take your pick
You could argue for every single player as the best of the 2020 Hall of Fame class. Kobe, KG and Timmy each have their own case for the best player in the era. As mentioned, the three are forever intertwined as they all competed for MVPs almost every year and battled in the Western Conference for over a decade.
Kobe’s Mamba Mentality sits in the hearts and souls of many players. Garnett was one of the first glimpses of a point forward and ended his career closer to the modern-day stretch 4 and even a stretch 5. Duncan won a ring balancing his classic style with the demands of the modern mobile center.
All three players tried ushering in the new generation. Garnett returned to the Timberwolves to help mentor Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Duncan helped bring up Kawhi. Kobe tried with D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, but made waves directly mentoring countless other stars.
Of course, some of this is recency bias. I am part of a generation that grew up with Garnett, Duncan and Bryant. Living on the West Coast, Bryant and the Lakers tucked me in, but I also got a lot of access to Spurs and Timberwolves content. I remember Kobe’s 81, Tim Duncan beating everybody and hearing KG scream “Anything is Possible!” after finally winning that ring with Boston.
We might know more about Michael Jordan as a person if social media was as big then as it is now. I might recall a bit more about John Stockton or David Robinson in smaller markets too, which is a product of the times.
Nonetheless, we got to know Garnett, Kobe and Duncan a bit more as the league expanded. We’ve heard even more from KG since he retired. Duncan still doesn’t say much, but he is coaching in San Antonio. And, of course, we were getting to know Kobe intimately before he died.
This 2020 Hall of Fame class was never afraid to be themselves. Garnett and Kobe were relentless talkers, competitors and willed their way to success. Duncan’s poise and patience made winning and leadership look effortless.
The GOAT Hall of Fame class
Either way, it’s hard to rank the greatest of greats. That’s why the intangible personality, impact, versatility and connectedness of the 2020 class gets the edge over the rest.
Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming in 2016 is also a very strong class. Other great classes include Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins and Joe Dumars entering the Hall in 2006. Hakeem Olajuwon, Adrian Dantley and Patrick Ewing got inducted in 2008. Oscar Robinson and Jerry West joined together in 1980 after getting drafted the same year. 2018 featured Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Ray Allen and Grant Hill. All are great collective representatives for the best basketball in their era.
Ultimately, the impact off the court and decades of achievements make this 2020 trio the best collection to enter the Hall of Fame. Garnett, Bryant and Duncan weren’t just some of the best to ever do it; these three built the foundation for decades of NBA success long after they retired.
That makes them the greatest Hall of Fame class ever.